Warren G. Harding was not yet the Republican candidate for the 1920 election when he first made his “Return to Normalcy” speech. But he was being promoted by key Ohio Republican Party insider Harry Daugherty, and after the Republican convention deadlocked, he emerged as a compromise candidate, winning the nomination. The speech nevertheless represents the major elements of his campaign, which emphasized a retreat from engagement in international affairs and renewed focus on building the domestic economy through the capitalist energy of the American people. Harding’s rhetoric avoids specifics but hints that he intends to roll back the progressive agenda of his predecessors. It also suggests his rejection of the new League of Nations which his predecessor Woodrow Wilson had championed, helped to design and urged the US to join. The Senate had voted against approving the treaty forming the League in March 1920, and although some in Congress, including some Republicans, wanted to reverse this decision, Harding saw his election as a mandate to stay out of the League.
The excerpt in our library of the “Return to Normalcy” speech is brief enough for classroom use, especially as a study in political rhetoric. Probably the most famous portion is this:
“America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”